North Midd Articles

Arson and a Lady’s Hat

100 years ago, on 7 June 1913, the Pavilion at North Middlesex Cricket Club was almost completely destroyed by fire.  Responsibility for the blaze was claimed by The Women's Social and Political Union (The WSPU) whose members were better known as The Suffragettes, in their newspaper "The Suffragette.”  But why would  they do such a thing?

The fire was fire was part of a campaign by suffragettes to give women the right to vote  in Parliamentary elections. The early 1900s saw the start of a movement to gain the vote for women.  Initially this campaign was peaceful, but as time went on with no change in voting rules, it became increasingly violent.  The Suffragettes saw sport a bastion of male chauvinism and exclusiveness.  Women were frequently not allowed to join sports clubs and sometimes not even allowed on the premises.  Racecourses, bowling greens, golf courses were all vandalised - turf was turn up, acid was poured and buildings set on fire. Cricket grounds were not spared despite the fact that the one of the suffragettes widely used slogans  was  "It's not cricket." The North Midd fire occurred on a Saturday night.

The alarm was raised soon after 10pm by a police-constable on cycle patrol in Cranley Gardens - there was a meadow between the pavilion and Cranley Gardens, where the houses are today.   Fire crews from Highgate and Muswell Hill fire stations arrived within 20 minutes.  The scale of the blaze was so great that a horse-drawn fire engine and steam pump had to be summoned from the central station in Tottenham. The Hornsey Journal reported calls being received from as far away as the Ferme Park Road alarm point "quite half a mile distant”.  And that Superintendant  Danzey  who  commanded the crews was faced by a "very serious fire”. Indeed three fireman - Brooks, Sadler and Pledger - were injured tackling the fire and had to be "attended to” at the Hornsey Cottage Hospital. 

Nevertheless, the blaze was swiftly dealt with and just before 11pm Danzey contacted the stations to say no further help was required. His men left the scene around 12:45am with only the part of the building used as "a refreshment house anything like its original shape.”  Blame for the fire fell on The WSPU because a number of prominent suffragettes lived locally, a suffragists’ meeting had earlier taken place nearby  and  a lady’s hat was discovered in the wreckage of the pavilion!   However, unlike at other suffragette scenes of militancy, no suffragette literature was found.  The suffragettes subsequently claimed responsibility for the fire but no criminal proceedings were brought.

In 1913 the members of North Middlesex Cricket Club were as keen as those of today.  The Hornsey Journal reports that, undaunted by the fire, the Club hosted a match on the following Saturday.  The Pavilion was re-built and has further changed in the decades since.  The image on the cover of this year’s fixturebook is from 1924 and shows what we believe to be the replacement pavilion.

Mary Cracknell

Horse-drawn escape LFB / Mary Evans Picture Library